Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Have you seen my Keys?

One of my lifelong passions is live theater. I think about plays all the time, finding new plays for Darrell and me to see, searching for good ones for Clague Playhouse, looking for audition pieces for myself, hoping for my next role. There's a ton of good theater in Cleveland and I will gab about that separately, but I bring up the topic here due to its impact on our winter getaway plans. You see, I had the good fortune to be cast in a play at Dobama Theatre. The play is called Middletown and I played the Librarian. Good for me - really, really good for me, because it was a blast - but not so good for our usual February trip due to those pesky rehearsals. We prefer vacationing in February for its strategic placement between the Christmas/New Years binge and the glory of pond season, aka "Pondemonium." But we sucked it up and started planning for a mid-January trip. It was either go then or just stay put.

Fantastic beach beds in Tulum.
We noodled around the idea of going back to Tulum but decided instead to go to Key West. Neither of us had ever been there. It has that Put-in-Bay-every-day's-a-party bar scene on steroids image that, believe it or not, is a turn-off for me. And I like to drink. Also, it's Flaahrida. How ordinary can you get? (I have absolutely no business asking that question, having just run the vacuum while baking a batch of whole wheat muffins, and wearing sweat pants.) Friends that we trust told us what fun they had there and we did a little research and decided to go for a warm-weather experience that didn't involve those fantastic beach beds in Tulum. A moment of silence, please, for those fantastic beach beds in Tulum.

If we couldn't stay in a cabana on the beach, we were going to search out the coolest bed and breakfast we could find, and find it we did at The Mermaid and The Alligator: http://www.kwmermaid.com/.
Rated super-duper in TripAdvisor, we decided to give it a shot. Our hosts, Dean and Paul, were unable to provide the same room for all five nights of our stay. Rather, they offered two nights in their primo room, Caribbean Queen, one night in Royal Poinciana and two nights in the Papaya Room. They said they'd handle all the lugging of the luggage and we said OK. It turned out great and enabled us to experience their most expensive room which included a private veranda.

Our Caribbean Queen veranda.
Even their least expensive room was very, very nice. Breakfast every morning on the patio was divine and we enjoyed sharing a table and chatting it up with other guests.  The concierge services were top-notch, too. I cannot remember her name, but the concierge lady pointed us to some excellent restaurants and other points of interest.

We enjoyed tapas at Santiago's Bodega and, at the recommendation of a (very drunk) guy whom we befriended at the bar, tried the beef tenderloin. He was right (and very drunk) - it was to die for and it did melt in our mouths. The other noteworthy restaurant was Blue Heaven. Live music, fun atmosphere and delicious scallops.

Imagine the passengers of this behemoth on Duval Street.
So, here's the thing about Key West. The place is full of bars and Duval Street is packed with tourists, t-shirt shops, cigars, drunks and drag queens. Actually, the drag queens were pretty cool. But the other stuff?...meh.

And "Warning! Booze Alert!": if you want to catch a buzz in Key West, do not get a mixed drink. We had a margarita at one place and Darrell, who is not a big drinker, noticed that he didn't feel much of anything and we were cocktailing on empty stomachs! One other night we tried a local rum concoction and the same thing. Where's the booze? Just an observation. Also, the only place to get really good craft beer is a place called The Porch, otherwise the beer pickins are pretty slim.

The Hemingway House
We pretty much avoided a lot of Duval Street doings and spent our time riding bikes, snooping around art galleries, touring the Truman White House and the Hemingway House.                                                                      

Heeere, five-toed kitty kitty kitty.
If you enjoy the smell of cat piss you will LOVE the Hemingway House.  Five-toed feline descendants of Hemingway cats have the run of the place. It was a good stop, 'tho. Highly recommended, albeit a bit fragrant. 

Sample snorkler. Nice suit, Darrell.
                                                                                                     We  took a half-day sailing tour which was very nice.  Danger Tours was the name of the company, which is not a good name in my opinion, but it was a good tour. They offered snorkeling and bird watching and kayaking. Darrell snorkled. I did not snorkel. We both watched birds while paddling around in a kayak. Snorkel is a funny word, right up there with my personal favorite: pickle.

Cranes are very good at hanging out.
The beautiful patio at our B&B.
The rest of the time we hung around the dock area, walked around the parks by the beach and read books patio-side at The Mermaid and The Alligator. We even saw a play: Red. Terrific play about Mark Rothko. Two-person show with only one good actor. Dang. But fun, nonetheless.
We had the best weather, too. It was sunny every day, mid-upper 70s. All in all, we had a very nice stay in Key West.

Getting home was another story. We flew out of the Key West Rinky-Dink Airport. Sort of.  Long story short, our flight was delayed all day for reasons unknown but we're pretty sure it had little or nothing to do with our personal safety. We spent the entire day waiting for a flight to get us to Tampa and from there to Cleveland. Eventually we got out of Key West, but not in time to make our connection. United/Continental put us up at the Tampa Airport Marriott, lost my reservation, found my reservation, pointed the finger at their uncommunicative systems and blahdy-blah-blah-blah. But we made friends at the airport T.G.I. Friday's...where it's always Friday. Always. And the margaritas aren't too shabby.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chili today, hot tamale

Every year as the winter wind whips the cold into a bitter slap in the chops, Darrell and I high-tail it the heck out of Cleveland to destinations that have a high probability of warmth, sunshine, ocean breezes and beautiful beaches, but where we won’t likely be murdered, kidnapped or thrown in prison.

One year we spent Thanksgiving in the Bahamas. Fresh grouper for Thanksgiving dinner was just fine with me. We found a colorful and quirky little resort in Nassau called 
Compass Point. http://www.compasspointbeachresort.com/index.html
I remember our first day there was sunny and bright, but then we were surprised by a chilly turn in the weather, with high winds and rain. Whoosh…Snap!
Just a little Bahamian sunset.
That's me on our porch. See me waving?
Compass Point is where all the groovy people stay. Apparently there’s a recording studio nearby. Rock stars, Starniks, you get the picture. We had a spacious, comfortable oceanfront cabin, our own little covered porch, a fridge, and an unexpected television.
Always good advice.

The view from our porch.
Even under stormy skies, the water was utterly gorgeous – in wavy patterns of turquoise, lapis lazuli and violet. But, stray from the tourist areas and prepare to be flattened by the terrible poverty that is the life of the locals.  Hoo-wee! And not in a good way. The tourism industry is huge in the Bahamas. Oh, really? For the residents to not make a living wage is dreadful. Really. 

Having said that, we weren't quite ready to give up on that neck of the woods, so we ventured one other year to the British Virgin Islands and Jost Van Dyke
Not a real pirate of the Caribbean.
Holy Depp! The pirates of the Caribbean weren’t kidding. 

Stunning views with white sand, blue/green mountains, winding roads and sparkling sea. The Sandcastle Hotel, where we stayed, and its famous Soggy Dollar Bar were nothing to write home about, although the local cocktail, the Painkiller, was aptly named.

Some big BVI sailboat.
Some big BVI sunset.
Tortola, here we come!

Warning: when traveling to the BVI… it takes FOREVER to get there.
Big plane to Miami or was it Tampa. I forget. Then another plane to San Juan.  To get to Tortola requires squeezing into a tiny, tiny, plane made out of rubber bands, tin foil, bailing wire and chewing gum. They make you give your weight and don’t even think about lying about that because it could get you killed. I sat next to the pilot. I kid you not.  She ate sunflower seeds while flying the plane. I ate my guts out while peeing my pants. After we landed (quite safely actually but thank you Jesus anyway) it was a 45-minute cab ride to the other end of the island. Then a ferry. Then a cab to the hotel. We got to Sweden quicker.    

All in all, we enjoyed the BVI. The people were nice, the standard of living was pretty decent and the views were spectacular. If we could move the Compass Point resort there, that would have been nearly perfect.

One other year we drove down to St. Augustine, Florida and stayed at a nice B&B on the beach. The House of Sea and Sun. http://www.houseofseaandsun.com/. The weather was a little cool and a little rainy, but better than Cleveland in February. St. Augustine was nice for a day trip, maybe two days, but not worth it for five. Overall I rate it “meh,” but felt I had to mention it.

We found the best place to experience beautiful beaches with the best guarantee of great weather is in Mexico. I know, I know, the first thing you’re wondering is: what about the getting murdered, kidnapped and imprisoned part? All I can say is, fly into Cancun and go straight to Tulum. You can rent a car or take a cab. It’s a 9 0-minute to two-hour drive, so renting a car worked for us.

Tulum is a direct shot down the highway, just past the Riviera Maya. What the town lacks in charm is made up for by the resort area, which is full of good places to stay – from exclusive and swanky to just the basics.  And the beach is the best. Miles of white sand, clear azure water, peaceful and relaxed. Many vacationers come from Europe, and lots of college students traveling on a shoestring get back to nature in Tulum. It’s a very eclectic collection of people looking for a peaceful, non-aggressive, untouristy oasis.

The nightlife is fun as well. Zamas is a tiny resort with a big restaurant and is where everyone goes for dinner and entertainment. It used to have live entertainment every night - singers, acrobats, salsa dancers – but the last time we were there it was limited to the weekend. But the people-watching there is the BEST. http://www.zamas.com/index.html   

Doesn't look ruined to me. Ha-ha.
The Mayan ruins of Tulum are set against a dramatic rocky coast and are a must-see. Gorgeous. The Tulum ruins are smaller than Chitzen Itza and much less aggressive as far as the local craftspeople trying to sell you stuff, and much less stifling and hot. Can you tell we liked Tulum better?
My feet on the beach at Ana y Jose.

We’ve been to Tulum three times, each time staying in cabanas on the beach. In general the accommodations are nothing fancy, just simple and clean. The area is very eco-conscious; they ask you to not flush toilet paper, and that might not appeal to you. But don’t think it’s not hygienic, because the service and care is topnotch. The last time we went we splurged and stayed at the lovely Ana y Jose resort. Beautiful. http://www.anayjose.com/

Ana y Jose view.

As nice as Ana y Jose was, we still thought Compass Point was the best. So here’s what we’d like to do: Move Compass Point and the BVI mountains to the beach at Tulum. That’s it! Perfection!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Get Away.

Once upon a time in the beautiful land of Cleve, five lovely maidens made an annual journey across miles and miles of wilderness to an enchanted and intoxicating island, where the natives were quick to laugh, eager to love and interested in first names only. For two days each year these luscious beauties would experience the mystery and wonder of the world’s wackiest brownies, the world’s shortest shower and the world’s longest bar, all in the world’s lostest weekend that will forever be Put-in-Bay.

After the weekend was over the maidens turned back into…poof!...us girls. As the years went by, love, maturity, responsibility and crabgrass took the reins. Marriages, families, health issues, jobs, Seinfeld, The Sopranos and the Internet were cause for major distraction. And while we all remained good friends, our individual paths took us in many different directions, separating us a little more and a little more as life in general lead the way.

It’s funny how things work out though, because as luck would have it, the kids grew up learned to feed themselves, the DVR came to know us better than we know us, the crabgrass wasn’t going anywhere and we all got back to feeling pretty darn good, thank you very much. What else was there to do but gather this gaggle of girls for a long-overdue weekend celebration of renewed friendship, delicious food, adult beverages, some smart shopping and a little Private Benjamin? We were all on board. Everyone was psyched for the getaway. The only bad part was a last-minute cancellation by one of the girls due to a case of the shingles. WTF? That left a hole in the soul of our plans, but we carried on.

Was it back to Put-in-Bay? Yeah, I don’t think so. There’s no going back. Besides, the place bears little resemblance to its 20th century style and character. That’s my opinion, and after all, this is my blog. Besides, the looks we’d get from the boys these days would be more like ohshitit’smyMOTHER than hey, baby, wanna buy me a drink?

No public showers, bunk beds and urine-soaked village green for us.  
The Lake House. And my car.
The sun came out just enough.
We headed instead for the Lake House, a charming little yellow house in Huron, with Lake Erie as its back yard. I almost said “cottage” because the place is so stinkin’ cute, but this house is so much more: two bedrooms, one bedroom suite and two and-a-half more baths, plus a full kitchen, living room, dining room, bar, laundry facilities, balcony, patio and grill. The WORKS!

We picked an off-peak weekend, the last weekend of September. What to do in Huron other than chill? Not a lot, but that’s OK. When the weather is good a person could golf or go to Cedar Point if that’s what you like. Me? I was happy to sit and stare at the lake, because we had the worst weather that weekend. Cold. Rain. Wind. Fabulous. 

The waves were crashing over the rocks and smashing onto our windows. At times I felt like I was inside my neighborhood Buckeye Super Car Wash. My undercarriage never felt so clean. Then on Saturday this crazy gorgeous rainbow appeared. At times it was a double-rainbow, and it lingered and was bright and brilliant and magnificent. Rainbows lose intensity in pictures, but this un-retouched photo gives you a pretty good idea of our enhanced views.
This would be the rainbow.
 We couldn’t stay inside ALL day (it’s possible that I could have), so we piled in the van and high-tailed it to the local Goodwill and some excellent bargain hunting. I found a 100% cotton, mint condition Liz Clairborne sweater for $4.85. Fits like a dream. I’m wearing it now.

Lunch at the Sand Bar was fun and full of a bunch of old guys watching Ohio State football. I thought I recognized one of them - maybe from 25 years ago at Put-in-Bay. What do I know? Great Lakes beer and fresh perch sandwiches were all I really cared about.

How far I have come.

Evenings were filled with LCR, wine, cards, beer, backgammon, rum and Hairspray, Chicago, Bridesmaids and Private Benjamin. Early in the movie Judy Benjamin just wanted to go to lunch and be normal. I don’t know much about normal, but I do know a bit about lunch, and friends, and a great weekend. Maybe Judy will join us next year along with our other dear friend, minus the shingles.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Play Time

For the past several years we’ve enjoyed a late summer/early autumn excursion with friends to Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada for the Shaw Festival. Here we indulge in a long weekend of theater, dinners, drinks and late evening French fries. It’s traditionally been a back-road, top-down trip in our respective convertibles.

This year the weather was threatening to threaten so Darrell and I took the Volvo instead. The handsome photo of the mineral blue 1966 MGB pictured at the top of this page is the car we would have taken, if the sun had come out sooner. Bob and Chris took their cute little Miata anyway because it’s more cooperative when the top has to come up fast. Lucky them. Oh, heck, lucky us, too, in our kitted-out Volvo.

Our drive to NOTL from Cleveland takes about 5 hours since we start off on I-90 and then take Route 5 once we hit western New York. It makes us happy to save on tolls and buy cheaper gas from Native Americans. The lake trail is a picturesque ride with Lake Erie to our left and lush grape fields to the right. Even in early September the grapes were starting to become fragrant. In October you can smell them through closed windows as you drive. It kind of makes you feel all Smuckered inside.

Once we get across the Peace Bridge we head for the Niagara Parkway for the last leg of the trip. The parkway is surprisingly untraveled which makes the views of the Niagara River and some beautiful homes that much more pleasant. Oh, Canada.

Of course we stayed at a bed & breakfast and there are gobs of them in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The chosen one this year was Lyons House B&B. http://www.niagaraonthelakeinn.ca/
Little-known fact: Lyons House is cube-shaped. So there.
The house is an easy walk to all the theaters, although King Street can get a little noisy with traffic.  Guests have the use of a lovely, large, comfortable sitting room and a cheerful dining room. Our rooms were nice, too, but the bathroom situation left a tad to be desired. The john was “separated” from the bedroom by a cheap-o, bi-fold, see-through glass door. I don’t know about you, but I like a door that stays closed when I close it and I prefer to not have to avert my eyes when someone else is doing their duty. But that’s just me.

Howard was our Lyons House host. Ah, Howard. He’s a bit of a snob, however benevolent, who likes to wax sarcastic and chat it up some. I mean that in a kind way, but he did get on one or two of Darrell’s nerves.  Mine, too, for that matter. I think a good B&B host should be seen and not so much heard. It really is not about them, after all.

Having said that, I will say this…that Howard can cook. Breakfasts were memorable. When asked if we had any food issues I mentioned that I couldn’t handle eggs if I can see their parts – like yolks and whites and such. So nothing fried, poached or boiled for me. Scrambled, quiched or omeleted I can handle. You get the idea. Howard had some fun with me on this, but did manage to adapt Eggs Benedict quite nicely to my special needs. We also loaded up on omelets, blueberry pancakes and some of the best bacon I’ve ever had. Is there any such thing as bad bacon? Yes, there is, if you’ve been to England, but that’s another story. Bob particularly liked the strawberries and yogurt with a nutty, toasty grainy thing sprinkled on top and a banana surprise down below…as it were.

We asked for a dinner recommendation and H. suggested the Stone Road Grille as being the best restaurant around. He warned that it was pricey. PRICEY! HOLY KRONA! It rivals Stockholm prices. The food was just OK and the portions were rather small. We weren’t too impressed with the price-to-value ratio.

Our favorite restaurant is Ginger, a quiet little white tablecloth place (but not hoity-toity) specializing in Asian style cuisine. Fresh herbs and spices, lightly prepared entrees just so full of flavor. I had the tilapia for dinner and a shrimp bisque to die for. We all came away from that meal feeling really good.

Stone Road and Ginger are a quick car ride from the center of town. We also had a decent meal at Corks, right in the center of town. Howard said Corks was garbage. Hmph! Get off y’er high horse, Howard. The place was just fine. And the price was right.

So, OK, we stayed for 3 nights and saw 5 plays. I’m an actor, not a critic, but I will share some quick opinions on what we saw:

The Admirable Crichton by J.M. Barrie.  The story dealt with class structure, role reversal and nature’s way therein. We usually love J.M. Barrie plays, but this one was not his best. It felt more like a period piece gone all Gilligan’s Island. 
The Admirable Crichton

My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady. One of our favorite NOTL actors, Deborah Hay, played Eliza Doolittle, which was the main draw for us. The show received glowing reviews but we were all underwhelmed. It just felt flat. The choreography was blah and Higgins was kind of dumpy and not very likable. Disappointing.

Drama at Inish, a Comedy. Such an absolute delight seeing how the people of the tiny seaside town of Inish, Ireland are affected by a troupe of traveling actors.  A funny, touching, poignant gem of a play. Bravo to Mary Haney for her priceless portrayal of Lizzie.
Drama at Inish. This actress is not Mary Haney. It's Corrine Koslo who also played Big Mama in Cat.
The President. The Shaw Festival features morning one-acts that are always a great way to start the day. This year’s was the hilarious The President
The President

The lead character, a corporate president, has exactly one hour in which to transform a derelict communist (is there any other kind?) into a credible business executive (your oxymoron joke goes here). Played by laser-sharp Lorne Kennedy, this manic, maniacal “suit” spewed instructions, invectives and asides at warp speed. The. Whole. Time. Beyond brilliant.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This production of the Tennessee Williams classic was a scorcher if I ever saw one. Act I was a tiny bit tepid, as this particular Maggie seemed rather forced to me. But look out for Act II when Big Daddy hits the stage with both barrels blazing.  It was absolutely riveting from there on out.  When we got home we watched the movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, Burl Ives and Paul Newman.  Ha! Hollywood left out just a few significant details about Skipper and Brick’s relationship. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Shhhh. It's a secret.

Some people like NOTL because it’s pretty and quaint and has lots of shops to blow your wad in…I mean to go broke in…I mean to browse around in. With the possible exception of the affordable and curiosity-provoking Cheese Secrets, touristy shopping is not a selling point for us. We more appreciate The Stratford Festival for being in a real city with commerce, depth and texture.

But in defense of Niagara, there is one authentic stop that leaves Stratford’s nightlife in the dust, and that is The Old Angel Inn.
The Old Angel Inn
The Old Angel Pub

Established in 1789, the Old Angel is the oldest operating inn in Ontario.

The pub has the best fries on the planet, great manly beers, low ceilings, rickety steps and live music every weekend. It’s always packed after the theater and that just adds to the fun. One day I’ll tell you about Charles from Dusseldorf and his passion for Old Angel B-52s. Wish I had a picture of Charles. He was cute.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Cleveland of Sweden

The drive from Stockholm to Goteborg was pretty easy. Easy for me, since I did absolutely none of the driving on this trip. Good job, Darrell. Getting out of the city was very civilized and nonaggressive. There's not a lot of horn blowing or angry driving in Sweden. Made the morning rush hour escape noteworthy in its uneventfulness. This makes sense to me, and possibly only to me.

It took about five hours to get to Goteborg. The GPS guided us safely back to the Volvo HQ where we dropped off our mud-encrusted car. We emptied out the car and Volvo promised to make it all spic and span before shipping it home. Note: At the start of the trip we asked if we could use the car to carry larger purchases back to the states. The answer was NO. The car had to be empty as it went through customs. We were glad we asked, even though we didn't buy ANYTHING other than what we ate, drank, slept in or handed to a ticket-taker.

The nice Volvo man drove us to our hotel in downtown Goteborg. We stayed two nights at the Radisson Blu, a very nice hotel located near the city center and colorful local entertainment - like the Swedish Michael Jackson.
The Swedish Michael Jackson

Volvo paid for one night of our stay in this vibrant, working-class city. Goteborg somehow reminded us of Cleveland, and I mean that in a good way. You can read about Cleveland's problems in someone else's blog. Goteborg seemed more down-to-earth and accessible than Stockholm. The people had more grit and girth, and that's not to say they were fat and unfriendly, they just seemed more regular. We spent a day and a half here, walking around, taking a bus tour and just chilling out before heading home.

Rooftop view of the city and the port
Upon arrival we went on the hunt for lunch and found plenty of choices well within walking distance of our hotel. We stopped in a pub and had a nice chat with the young bartender who was from New Zealand. I'll call him Sam. Sorry I don't have a picture of Sam. He's really cute. Sam told us how easy it is to get a work visa in Sweden. His girlfriend is from Goteborg and all he had to do to get his visa was prove that they were a couple. We heard a similar story from an American girl living in Stockholm. (Did I mention that already?) Sam also said how confounding he found the language and we had a laugh about that. Then he pointed out, with a bit of disdain, the "Norwegians." Very wealthy men with an air of entitlement, in Sam's estimation. He went on to say that the cost of living in Norway far exceeds that of Sweden. We were a bit dumbfounded by that. Yikes! What are we talkin'...$40 hamburgers? Could be.

Other highlights in Goteborg included Saluhallen, an indoor marketplace similar to Cleveland's West Side Market, only the West Side Market is cooler, more authentic.

Also, Olhallen, a 100+ years old beer hall. One room. No food. No wine. No liquor. Just beer, thank you very much. Darrell wasn't too impressed, but I thought it was worth a picture. Too bad they didn't have any Dortmunder.

There are lots of restaurants in Goteborg. We found a little out-of-the-way gem, Indiska Hornet (Indian Corner) and enjoyed a terrific Tandoori dinner there.

The other culinary, Cleveland-like highlight was the breakfast buffet at the Radisson. Getting readjusted to USA breakfasts, we enjoyed all the bacon, sausages and eggs you could shake a stick at. There were still plenty of cold cuts and plain yogurt, too. Both mornings as we had our breakfast we could hear the mood music over the PA system. Sure enough, we weren't imagining that we were listening to the Kenny G Christmas album...on May 31 and June 1. Swedish humor? You tell me.

On the morning of our departure, after breakfast with Kenny, another nice Volvo man picked us up and took us to the airport. They said they would do that and they kept their word. I love me some Swedish promises and we're on our way, having enjoyed a great trip, happy to head home.

The only glitch getting home was due to a tornado in the Boston area that delayed our departure out of Newark by several hours. This enabled us to catch up on the news via CNN and the continuous loop of Anthony Weiner explaining that his Twitter account had been hacked and he had nothing to do with sending lewd photos to young girls, and with a name like Weiner and blahdy-blah-blah. The first time I watched the interview I thought "who's Anthony Weiner?" By about the eighth time I watched it I had my answer. He's a flippin' liar, that's who! Why I oughta.

Welcome to America.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"The Girl With The Sensible Shoes"

Not many people are aware that the title of this post served as the working title of Stieg Larsson's last book, the story of Lisbeth Salander's long lost Aunt Laura, who came to Stockholm with her Chuck Taylors, a Volvo and a dream. That's because I just made that up. Hard to believe, I know. But the truth is I did pack my Chuck Taylors at the last minute and wore them constantly in Stockholm, with great comfort and confidence as Converse were de rigueur there. I talk like I know who Chuck Taylor is. I don't, or didn't, until Darrell told me that the shoes were named for him. I'm assuming Chuck had something to do with basketball. And yes, I said "de rigueur."

Enough about shoes and more about beautiful Stockholm, a city situated on 14 islands, connected by 57 bridges, infused and embraced by Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea. We stayed in the Columbus Hotell (http://www.columbushotell.se/eng/info.htm) in the heart of Sodermalm, a gentrified "cool 'hood" full of boutiques, galleries, cafes, clubs and restaurants. Lisbeth's apartment was in Sodermalm. The Columbus Hotell is a mid-priced hotel for (expensive) Stockholm. I think our room was around $200/night, which included a full breakfast. I expected a tiny room with just enough space for us and our luggage - like we had in London. But when we opened our door we were delighted to find a sitting room with a couch and TV, then a sizable bedroom and bath. Really nice and quiet and comfortable. The quiet part might have had something to do with the cemetery outside our window. We recommended the Columbus Hotell to other friends who were making a Finland/Sweden trip and they loved it, too. So it wasn't a fluke.

We stayed in Stockholm for three days and made great use of The Stockholm Card, which we bought online while still in the states. Just load up the card with money and number of days and then use it for just about every museum, church, palace, gallery and all public transportation, including groovy little water taxis. Very convenient and a lot better than digging around for cash all the time.

We toured the Royal Palace, which was decorated in early gaud. Yikes there was a lot of chunky, clumsy, gold and silver regalia all over the place. And portraits galore of the royal family. We were surprised to learn that Gene Wilder was a descendant.

Another notable stop was the Royal Opera House where we encountered crabby Lars and Budapest cake at a nearby cafe (see earlier post). I think Lars and the Real Cake was more memorable than the Opera House, which was nice but can't touch Cleveland's theaters for beauty and splendor.

The Fotografiska Museet was also very cool and we were struck by a fantastic showing of Canadian photographer Ed Burtynksy's manufactured landscapes.

We also visited the Vasa Museet. They built a museum to house this ship that was built in 1628 and sank on its maiden voyage because of the dumb design. But some archeologist dug it up in the 1950s and it was restored and put on display. A monument to stupidity, I guess.

I think our favorite stop was The Tiel Gallery in Djurgarden - not far from the Museum of the Stupid Ship.

The Tiel Gallery was a house built by this Swedish banker, Ernest Thiel, designed for the display of his fantastic art collection, including works by Munch, Vuillard, Toulouse-Lautrec. We arrived 15 minutes before closing so had to zippidy-do-dah through, but it really made an impression. And Djurgarden is a beautiful park of an island, perfect for the Sunday stroll that we took after the Tiel.

Let's see, what else about Stockholm? More than I can cover here, it's a terrific city, full of young people and young families. Babies everywhere, but they're well maintained. Lots of young, lots of old, like Gamla Stan, The Old Town, full of narrow, cobbled streets, lined with shops, galleries, cafes, restaurants and dogs that bear a striking resemblance to Winston Churchill. And Koh Phangan, this nutty Thai restaurant, packed with people, kitsch, and cricket and tropical thunder sound effects.

And while this isn't particular to Stockholm, but rather the Swedish language in general, it was mind-numbing to try to match the spelling of a word to its pronunciation. For example, on the Metro, you'd think the Malarhojden stop should sound something close to "malar" and "hoden." You would be wrong. It sounds more like "yourmotherwearshulahoops." Just ask the New Zealand bartender in Goteburg, he'll corroborate this phenomenon. Next.